Getting Started with Off-Camera Flash

February 18, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 14 Comments | |
Getting Started with Off-Camera Flash Image

From there, a world of creativity opens up to you! If you set your camera to underexpose on purpose – by dialling in -2 stops of underexposure, for instance – then the background will be dark. But if you then expose your subject with a flash, they will be exposed correctly. This can give stunning results and is a technique used by many pro photographers.

Of course, as you become more advanced the best way is to set the exposure on the camera manually then manually adjust the power level of the flash to get the desired effect. This means you can make the background as light or dark as possible, and change the exposure on the subject easily, too. With practice and a bit of experience, this can become second nature and will give a new level of consistency to your results.

The benefits of setting everything manually means not only are you in control of exposure, but you don’t need to rely on manufacturers’ own wireless systems which use infra red and therefore have limited range and need line of sight between the flash and camera. Now, you can use radio triggers which are available to suit every pocket.

GettingsStarted with  Off-Camera Flash

A transmitter sits on the camera hotshoe and when you push the shutter sends a signal to a receiver mounted onto the flashgun. It’s as simple as that.

Triggering more than one gun does require additional receivers, though. Although some flashguns – like many modern Nikon units – have a built-in optical slave so as soon as they detect a flash going off, they go off too.

When you’re working manually, all there is to adjust on the flash is the power level and the zoom of the head. This enables you to alter the pattern of the beam.

GettingsStarted with  Off-Camera Flash

The real benefit of using off-camera flash is to modify the light, by shining it through one of the commercially available accessories. Photographic umbrellas are available in lots of sizes and materials and provide a much softer and flattering light source than a bare flash head. Softboxes also give soft light, and control the spread of light better than an umbrella.

To channel the light into precise areas – ideal for rimlighting a subject or lighting the hair – then the flash light has to shone through an accessory like a snoot or a honeycomb grid. And for real drama, if you put a coloured gel in front of the flash, the light takes on the colour of the gel. This can give really stunning and unusual effects.

GettingsStarted with  Off-Camera Flash

Taking your flash off camera is lots of fun, gives great results and can become addictive! You have been warned!

If you want to learn how to use your flash off-camera for great effects, the British-based Phototraining Co run several courses suitable for all levels of photographer. Their website is or email

Entry Tags

beginner, portrait, how to, flash, getting started, lighting, external, flashgun, off-camera, off camera

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Your Comments

14 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Aberdeen Photographers

Great article thanks. I believe that some of the best results regarding flash models come from the Sigma flashes. They are a lot better value for money than most flashes although some Sigma flashes have problems with distance.

1:49 pm - Sunday, February 20, 2011

#2 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

Wonderfully helpful article, thank you!  Just what I am trying to learn at the moment!  Cindy

5:04 pm - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#3 Max Surikov

Great points. Don’t forget about gelling your flash for an even greater drama.

4:43 am - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#4 kamarms

nice tips that can be easily followed by anyone…

3:33 am - Tuesday, June 7, 2011

#5 TillyBee

There is nothing more annoying than fellow photographers who turn their nose up at other photographers who shoot off camera flash. They say “oh but it doesn’t look natural” or “that look is too harsh for my style of photography” clearly these narrow minded photographers need to go back to school and learn to utilize one of the most powerful tools in a professional photographers kit; off camera flash. When used properly it can be hard to tell if it was used at all, or it can be strong and dramatic! I only shoot available light, and off camera flash is available to me. Lol

10:21 am - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#6 paul

this is a very helpful article as iam just starting to get into off camera falsh.

3:30 am - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#7 Peterborough Photography

I think flash offers other ways to get some really nice effects and pictures.

1:53 am - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#8 Andrew Knowles Photography

I LOVE shooting off camera flash. When I shoot wedding formals I just take a giant 60” umbrella, taper it across the group from a 45 downward angle and everyone looks great! I also really enjoy pointing my strobe(s) at a wall or building and bouncing it. Sometimes lets me turn a giant white wall into a HUGE reflector!

5:25 pm - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#9 Tony Sale|Essex Wedding Photographer

Really helpful and informative article. I use bounce flash quite a lot but I really do need to get it off the camera.

12:36 am - Friday, February 24, 2012

#10 Pat Sharp

Thanks for the info, I am just starting to experiment with off camera flash.

1:23 pm - Saturday, August 11, 2012

#11 Shane

Excellent Tips - I’m just starting with off camera flash and look forward to trying out some techniques.

11:13 pm - Monday, November 5, 2012

#12 Moin khan

Thank you for your helpeful post I’m glad that you actually shared this one to all of us. I believe this is helpful and thanks for considering your readers because it’s one way of saying that we are all welcome and we are your boss. A friend of mine told me that your site is indeed great so I visited it and he’s true.


5:23 pm - Wednesday, June 26, 2013


I first started using my Nikon SB-700’s off camera a few years ago when shooting a portfolio for fashion student. I was considering using studio flashes with a battery pack, but this really is not an option unless you have at least one assistant! I presently use the SB-700’s for my wedding photography with the new Yongnou 622n which is around £40. It is amazing for the cash and uses radio waves rather than infra red of the massively expensive and dated nikon SU-800. If you can’t afford the nikon or canon stuff you can get one of the older Yongnou flashes and a pair of triggers for less than £100! Once you get the flash off camera, you dont even really need an umbrella. To anyone who hasn’t got their flashes off camera do it!

11:11 am - Friday, July 11, 2014

#14 Clipping Path

Very helpful post it is.Thank you sharing this article.

4:01 pm - Friday, November 6, 2015